Sunday, 26 March 2017

Religion In Practice

Adzel is a Buddhist but fights as necessary during the liberation of Hermes. Other examples of religious observance combined with pragmatic considerations in Poul Anderson's works?

Other authors -

In SM Stirling's A Meeting With Corvallis, a fighting priest offers confession to bandits before they are beheaded.

And a more benign consequence of religion:

"He thought about his own Muslim upbringing, which had taught him that it was his duty to God to help the outcasts. Of course he did not believe in God and had not been in a mosque since he was a teenager, but he recognized Lisbeth Salander as a person in resolute need of help."
-Stieg Larsson, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (London, 2008), Chapter 2, p. 37.

I do not believe in the Catholic or Muslim deity but I imagine that, if God exists, He:

respects Adzel's spriritual practice and moral decisions;
approves of His priest's activities;
is glad that an atheist brought up as a Muslim helps Lisbeth.

Social Movements II

See Social Movements.

In the above linked post, I did not do full justice to the works of Poul Anderson. First, I should have pointed out that the three works cited are installments of a single future history. Secondly, I should also have cited a longer list of installments. The theme is novels about living in troubled times -

Mirkheim: social change on Hermes and civil war in the Polesotechnic League;
The People Of The Wind: mobilization of a planetary population for war;
The Rebel Worlds: the McCormac Rebellion on Aeneas;
The Day Of Their Return: anti-Imperial Messianism on Aeneas;
A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows: near insurrection on Dennitza;
The Game Of Empire: popular support for an Admiral who defeats a Merseian attack, then declares himself Emperor.

Two works set in different periods before Flandry's life-time;
two centrally involving Flandry;
one not directly involving Flandry but set during his life-time;
one centrally involving Flandry's daughter, with appearances by him.

A comprehensive future history.

Saturday, 25 March 2017


I am thinking of rereading Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy yet again. I have previously found ways to discuss the Trilogy in relation to Poul Anderson's works (see here):

Swedish setting;
intelligence services;
political issues;
authentic characterization;
a monumental behind-the-scenes villain;
computer technology that would have been sf earlier in our lifetimes;
hypothetical crossovers, e.g., has the Time Patrol penetrated Swedish Intelligence?

Reopening Vol I, I find a purely formal parallel with some of Poul Anderson's novels: a brief background-establishing Prologue that can be skipped on rereading.

As Anderson's Time Patrol series progressed, its author adopted the practice of dating each new chapter or narrative passage. This is particularly helpful in time travel fiction. Larsson's Prologue is dated "A Friday in November." His Part 1 covers "20.xii-3.1" and his Chapter 1 is dated "20.xii." Thus, the chronological sequence is tightly controlled although we are not told what year(s). But the setting is very up-to-date.

On rereading, we can pause and appreciate details not noticed before or forgotten since, e.g.:

Anderson fans, what is Manse Everard's full name?
Larsson fans, what is Mikael Blomkvist's full name?

"The Hunter Shall Come"

Having shot some geese, a Wiccan acknowledges that:

"'...for us too the hour of the Hunter shall come.'"
-SM Stirling, A Meeing At Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter Three, p. 79.

That sounds remarkably like the Ythrian New Faith of God the Hunter in Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization.

The Wiccan continues:

"'Guide them flying on winds of golden light to the Summerlands. Mother-of-All, let them be reborn through you.'" (ibid.)

I cannot buy this. All life is local temporary negative entropy. The entropy of the matter that was organized into geese has just returned to the positive. More matter will become geese but none of those newly hatched geese will be these individual geese reborn. An invocation to acknowledge the death of the geese is appropriate but not a fantasy about their continued existence.

Social Movements

This afternoon, some of us attended the Mechanics' Institute, Manchester, for a meeting on the significance of the Russian Revolution. Hence, this post.

Historical Texts
The History Of The Russian Revolution by Leon Trotsky
Ten Days That Shook The World by John Reed

Fiction by HG Wells
The Shape Of Things To Come
The World Set Free

By Robert Heinlein
Revolt In 2100
Between Planets
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress

By Poul Anderson 
The People Of The Wind
The Day Of Their Return
The Game Of Empire

Of these works, the historical, Wellsian and Heinleinian volumes describe completed revolutions although the Russian Revolution was soon reversed. Its purpose had not been to replace one dictator with another.

Trotsky and Reed describe mass movements with high hopes, not yet realized. Wells' fictional revolutions are historical turning points that remake the world. Heinlein's Second American Revolution leads to the Covenant, then, after further social troubles, to the first mature civilization.

Anderson captures the danger and excitement of living in troubled times:

the mass mobilization of the Avalonian population;
the militant Messianism on Aeneas;
the hopes raised, then dashed, by the Magnusson Rebellion.


Something Big happens that changes everything:

a nuclear war;
a cometary strike;
an Ice Age;
a global flood;
most people die;
intelligence increases;
Mars and Venus are habitable and inhabited;
technology stops working.


maybe the Ice Age is gradual, therefore doesn't quite fit with the others?;

the first five of these "changes" are generic;

the sixth is a Poul Anderson premise;

the seventh and eighth are SM Stirling premises;

Stirling's two premises require intervention by a superior technology.

Two Ravens

Busy today but let's make some notes over breakfast:

"A pair of ravens flew up from the gravestone, probably attracted by the offerings of milk and bread that some left there..."
-SM Stirling, A Meeting At Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter Three, p. 73.

We know Who two ravens represent.

There is a good list of farmyard sounds and smells on p. 71.

The Wiccan High Priestess said:

"'When the student is ready, the teacher appears." (p. 64)

I first read that phrase in a book on Buddhism. This kind of interplay between traditions is healthy.


An Archer God

(The image shows the Marvel Comics Uller.)

The Change Series by SM Stirling.

Given the importance of archery post-Change, maybe the Wiccans need an archer god? Or they might deify their own Aylward the Archer who is also an expert bowyer although he denies that this is a master-craftsman's trade.

Names recall ancestral trades. In our local Telephone Directory, I have found:

23 Archers;
48 Bakers;
4 Bowyers;
17 Butchers;
9 Carpenters;
1 Cordiner;
8 Drivers;
6 Falconers;
5 Farmers;
uncountable Coopers, Fletchers, Masons, Millers, Palmers, Shepherds, Smiths, Taylors and Wrights;
20 Glovers;
Gardeners with different spellings;
1 Goldsmith;
1 Millner;
5 Painters;
5 Pipers;
1 Rimmer;
5 Sawyers;
1 Singer;
4 Wainwrights;
12 Wheelers;
1 Wrightson.

And there is a local Baker the Butcher.

Friday, 24 March 2017


SM Stirling, A Meeting in Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter Two, p. 60.

Aspects of the Wiccan God and Goddess:

the Green Man;
Arianrhod and Ogma;
Apollo and Athena;
Zeus and Hera;
Freya and Odin;
Sif and Thor.

Many of these figures, referenced before, can be found by searching the blog.
Here, all mythologies are regarded as manifesting the same male and female principles.
Odin and Thor, regarded as father and son in Norse mythology and in related fiction, e.g., by Poul Anderson, are also regarded as aspects of a single divinity.
We are used to different versions of a story. Here is another example.


Let us consider three religious traditions:

Mahayana Buddhism and Jerusalem Catholicism in Poul Anderson's Technic History;

Wicca in SM Stirling's Change series.

Declares an interest: I was educated in Roman Catholicism, practise Zen within the Mahayana and am friendly with Wiccans. Buddhas and gods coexist. (I do not think that they literally "exist." We need a better verb.)

Adzel converts to the Mahayana because he encounters Terrestrial religions when he comes to Earth as a student;

Axor converts to Catholicism because missionaries of the Galilean Order teach on Woden;

a post-Change community becomes Wiccan because it is led by a Wiccan.

In each case, a tradition plays a central role. A guy in a multi-faith discussion on British radio disagreed with the emphasis that the others placed on their respective "traditions." What mattered about Christianity for him was that he believed it, not just that one of a number of traditions taught it. However, I would reply, he believed as he did either because he had been brought up in a particular tradition or because he had converted to a belief that had been transmitted to him by a tradition. Either way, he would not have been Christian without the tradition. Only a tradition can link his belief now to Christ then. Axor would not have believed that God had been incarnate on Earth if he had not encountered a tradition that taught him that - unless he received it in a vision in which case he would then found a new tradition.

In this respect, the Buddhist tradition, at least theoretically, is less necessary. Adzel, or anyone else, could do now what the Buddha did then:

reflect on life;
analyze experience;
criticize received ideas;
experiment with life styles and spiritual practices;
find value in "just sitting" meditation;
identify a psychological cause of suffering;
end that cause within himself;
teach others a way to the end of suffering;
found a monastic community.

But, in practice, how many people can do all that? Traditions save us from reinventing the wheel. A meditative tradition can come from the Buddha, Patanjali or Lao Tzu.

Wicca claims to be an ancient tradition and instead plagiarizes other traditions. Why accept its version of a "Summerland" where souls rest before reincarnation? The Buddha's analysis of mental processes made him reject the idea of a permanent soul. He taught that actions have consequences - I agree - but added that these consequences include the "rebirth" in some later organism of each present being's karmic processes. This seems to me to be an unnecessary hangover from reincarnation of souls. Platonic immortality of, originally reincarnating, souls and Biblical resurrection of the body were synthesized in Catholic doctrine: both an immediate hereafter and an eventual resurrection.

Meanwhile, let's pray if we are theists and meditate if not.